The movie starts when Clough's career was seemingly at the crossroads;after winning the English League Championship with Forest's East Midlands rivals Derby County in 1972,Clough departed along with his assistant Peter Taylor after a series of feuds with the club's directors,and after a brief and unsuccessful spell at Brighton and Hove Albion,rather surprisingly became manager at Leeds United,a club he had often fiercely criticised publicly,along with its manager Don Revie,who ironically hailed from the same industrial town as Clough himself,Middlesbrough.Equally unsurprisingly,Clough's tenure was short-lived in the light of such mutual hostility,and the fractious TV interview alongside Revie is perhaps an appropriate way for the film to begin,progressing from the ridiculous to the sublime.
By the beginning of 1975,Clough was appointed manager of Nottingham Forest,a club with past traditions in the FA Cup (having won the trophy twice),but not the sort you would expect to win League Championships,as indeed Derby were until they triumphed three years earlier;Derby themselves would go on to win the league at the end of that same season with a different manager (Dave Mackay),whereas Forest ended in mid- table mediocrity in the then second division and expected to remain so or even worse,Brian Clough or not.
However,the following two seasons saw a gradual improvement,to the extent that Forest won promotion to the first division,albeit narrowly in third place.Not much was expected of them in the new season,being made up of apparent footballing journeymen,cheap signings and unheralded also-rans,with such names as John McGovern,John Robertson,Martin O'Neill,Larry Lloyd,Kenny Burns and Tony Woodcock.Yet thanks to Clough's extraordinary skills of man-management and attractive football,he moulded them and others (most notably goalkeeper Peter Shilton) into a championship winning squad by the season's end,and even more astonishingly went on to win the European Cup two years in succession,acquiring the first million pound signing,Trevor Francis,along the way,who scored the winner in the 1979 final against Swedish club Malmo,in perhaps the least fashionable coda in the tournament's history.
The story seems woefully far-fetched to the uninitiated yet it did actually happen,and it is all likeably put together in a straightforward but efficient manner by director Jonny Owen,via pithy and amusing reminiscences by long retired players like Burns,Shilton,Lloyd and O'Neill interspersed with highlights of such heady days.The one who comes out of it best of all is Brian Clough himself,who could be both maddening and enchanting,belligerent yet charming,overtly confrontational but intensely articulate,and never remotely dull.
Inevitably,because director Owen keeps the story down to those remarkable years between 1977 and 1980,many aspects relating to this period and after are conveniently skipped over;the hooliganism that plagued English football at the time,his eventual acrimonious falling out with Taylor,his steady decline due to his alcohol problem and Forest's relegation in his final year in charge,plus allegations of financial misdeeds in his later years.But this was perhaps the right thing to do as the film intends to project a relentless feel-good factor,and it achieves it all very enjoyably with a warm glow by it's finish,helped on immeasurably by a Funk/Northern Soul soundtrack comprising of such tunes of the era which is very well judged and executed,adding to the purveying atmosphere of nostalgia.
In these days of billionaire benefactors and opulent signings of players from every corner of the globe,this is a timely reminder that the underdog can occasionally triumph against all the odds,thanks to team spirit,outstanding management and attractive football which is genuinely inspiring.And with the likes of an individual like Brian Clough no longer with us,it looked as though it would never happen again,yet barely six months after the film was released, Forest's East Midlands rivals Leicester City performed a footballing miracle of their own when they won the Premier League for the first time in their history with the affable,charming Italian Claudio Ranieri at the helm.But we can still celebrate and enjoy such victories in years past too with such a thoroughly endearing film as this.
Rating:8 out of 10.